CINCINNATI -- Senior Malcolm Bernard studied the final stats from Xavier’s 95-84 defeat by Marquette at Cintas Center and couldn’t believe the numbers.
In Wednesday’s regular-season home finale, the Musketeers allowed 95 points – the most ever scored by a Xavier opponent in the arena – and lost a sixth straight game for the first time since 1981-82. The Golden Eagles buried nine three-pointers and led by as many as 17 points.
It’s not the way Bernard wanted to go out on Senior Night.
He described Xavier’s defense as “terrible” and “God awful” and said the team should have been more fired up for the game considering the implications.
“The only thing I can say is they just want it more. You’ve got to want to stop the other person more than the other person wants to score,” Bernard said. “And we don’t want to stop them more than they want to score, so they continue to score. And we’re going to be in trouble if we don’t figure out a way to get it done.”
It’s fair to say that Xavier’s already in trouble.
A team that started the season with a 13-2 record has now lost 10 of its last 15 games and is barely hanging on in NCAA tournament projections. ESPN.com Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi Tweeted after the game that the Musketeers (18-12, 8-9 Big East) dropped to the ‘Last Four In’ his mock field of 68.
Coach Chris Mack said in his post-game press conference that the outcome gave Xavier the seventh seed in next week’s Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. That seed plays a first-round game Wednesday night against 10th-seed DePaul.
Xavier still faces DePaul in the regular season, Saturday’s 2 p.m. outing at Allstate Arena. The Blue Demons are the last team the Musketeers defeated before the skid.
There are several reasons XU has floundered instead of starting to peak, and porous defense is at the top of the list. Xavier has allowed an average of 80.1 points in its six-game drought, including increasingly inflated numbers in second halves.
Turnovers have been another pitfall. Marquette scored an eye-popping 25 points off the Musketeers’ 14 turnovers Wednesday, just one game after Butler racked up 19 points off miscues.
“Turnovers have been our undoing on the offensive end. It’s no secret that we don’t have a plethora of guards right now, and we’ve got to figure out a way to take better care of the ball,” Mack said.
The team lost a great deal of playmaking abilities with the season-ending injury of point guard Edmond Sumner, who underwent knee surgery earlier Wednesday. Every player but Tyrique Jones, who played just seven minutes, logged at least one turnover against Marquette. Kaiser Gates had five.
In fact, Gates had four of the team’s first five turnovers. He managed to salvage a near-turnover by J.P. Macura but traveled and took a seat on the bench quickly thereafter. Bernard started in Gates’ place in the second half.
“He was trying to do too much. It’s plain and simple,” Mack said. “He’s out there taking six, seven dribbles (and) changing direction. I don’t know where that’s coming from. If he does it in practice, we would instantly stop him and say, ‘What are you doing?’”
The Musketeers pulled within nine points multiple times in the second half but drew no closer in the final 12 minutes. Katin Reinhardt buried a jump shot and then stole the ball after Sean O’Mara’s wide pass went off Trevon Bluiett’s fingers. Reinhardt finished the run-out with a dunk.
Marquette’s arsenal of sharpshooters helped the team to a 62.5 percent clip in the second half and eventually, the win.
Perhaps most troubling to Mack was the way Xavier failed to respond to adversity.
“We haven’t had much of a resiliency all year,” Mack said. “When teams punch us in the mouth, we just sort of keep getting punched. That hasn’t been the character of teams that I’ve coached in the past. This one’s been dealt some weird adversity throughout the year. We haven’t handled it very well - runs that the other team makes, responses that we need to make. We have an opportunity to try to work to get better at it and fix it on Saturday.”
While he and his staff will continue showing the team the right things to do, Mack said it’s “up to the guys in the locker room” to find a new response.